Do your health a favour and use all your vacation days this year for traveling. Travel isn’t just something exciting for you to spend your money on (or make your co-workers envious) it’s an investment in your health. By not traveling, you’re missing out on the benefits.
- People who travel have better social skills. Decades of research has shown that travelers make friends more easily than non-travelers (The research was unclear whether it’s because travelers are just more interesting to talk to than homebodies.)
- Men who don’t take a vacation at least every year have a 30% increased risk of heart disease. (The good news is they only have a 20% increased risk of death. Phew.)
- In a study by the U.S. Travel Association, 86% of travelers were “satisfied” with their outlook on life as opposed to 75% of non-travelers. (The study did not investigate whether the travelers were recalling a Las Vegas blowout or visiting their in-laws.)
Think about why you travel. What’s your motivation? If the only reason you travel is to drink the bar dry, I recommend another purpose. A worthwhile purpose.
Here it is: travel is healthy.
Traveling makes you healthier in mind, body, and – dare I say it – soul.
You might need convincing, so here’s every reason that travel is healthy.
Reasons Travel is Healthy for Your Mind
Everyone knows that getting away 6 months – or even for a weekend – is good for your mental health. With depression rates increasing yearly1, taking care of your mental health is a big deal.
Before you start pumping your body full of Prozac or scheduling a weekly visit to a shrink, consider using travel to strengthen your mind.
Travel Reduces Stress
You don’t have to backpack around Asia for 6 months to get the benefits, a weekend getaway is long enough to recover from a stressful life.
But be careful: a vacation with a grueling schedule and little time for rest means you’re trading one stress for another. That’s not good for your health.
Travel Helps You Become More Patient
You’re probably used to getting things instantly. Email, texting, and online shopping makes for a life where you can avoid being patient.
That’s not to say that you don’t need patience. Line ups and slow service will always exist, and getting angry about them isn’t healthy.
Travel will teach you to be patient, and even help with anger management4. Patience will always be important, whether you’re stuck in the departure lounge for another two hours, or communicating with someone in a foreign language.
Travel Builds Your Confidence
When navigating an unfamiliar subway system, bargaining with local vendors, or searching for a hotel that may – or may not – exist, you can either collapse into a sniveling ball of misery or rise to the challenge.
Travel gives you the chance to put your confidence to work. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the better you’ll handle challenging5 situations (even when you get home).
Travel Gives You Time to Be Alone
The thought of being alone should not freak you out. Being alone is important for your mental health6.
Alone time is good because you’re free to make choices and decisions on your own. Without friends or family influencing you, you’ll discover who you really are.
Getting far away from judging eyes, you can reinvent yourself, try something new, or just do whatever you want to do. When you travel you’re free to find out what it means to truly be yourself.
Travel Gives You a Break From Your Routine
Traveling puts you in a situation where nothing is routine. In a new situation, new surroundings, new country (new everything) you’ve got “Beginners Mind”. It’s a Zen thing, and it means seeing things with a fresh perspective. No assumptions, no expectations.
Living in the moment is mentally healthy. When you travel your mind tends to notice things that don’t stand out in your “regular” life (you may not remember your morning commute, but you’ll never forget riding a chicken bus in Guatemala). The more you notice, the more you appreciate.
Travel Will Increase Your Creativity
Even if you’re not a professional painter or musician, it’s still worthwhile to work on your creativity. The wiring in your brain loves to be creative, and traveling will help the mind maneuver its way around different ideas7.
Is creativity that big a deal? Well, even if you don’t come back from vacation and open a pottery shop, you will still benefit from increasing your creativity.
Being able to think creatively will help you solve problems of all types, even in industries that aren’t typically “artsy” (engineering and computer science for example), or when you’re desperately trying to think of a new way to get your kids to go to bed.
Travel Forces You to Practice Social Skills
Relationships are a key part of human life8, and travel is definitely a social experience, whether it’s a friendly “buenos dias” to a flight attendant or making friends at a local bar.
It gives you a chance to practice meeting new people, and work on your communication skills at the same time.
If being social is healthy, then travel is healthy too.
Travel Increases Your Cultural Intelligence
You’re probably familiar with IQ, and now there’s another intelligence measure: CQ (cultural intelligence). Being exposed to different cultures and customs through travel is one of the key ways to increase your CQ9.
Cultural intelligence doesn’t just mean learning about different cultures. It means you’re comfortable relating to them. The world’s getting smaller, a higher CQ can help you deal with the internationalization of your workplace, your hometown, and, well, the world in general.
Travel Makes You More Empathetic
You’ve got ample opportunity to practice empathy when you’re traveling. You don’t have to agree with every culture and custom, but at least trying to understand will help you see another point of view.
Besides underlying “virtually everything that makes society work”10, empathy can help you build trust with others, and help you understand the world better.
Not just useful for travelers, having more empathy is good for anyone.
Travel Helps You Deal with Change
Flexibility is a “key ingredient to psychological health”11. If you’re the kind of person who goes ape-shit when there’s a slight change of plans, you might want to step up your traveling. It could save your sanity.
Whether it’s a flight delay or the hotel losing your reservation, a flexible person doesn’t get overwhelmed by stress when things go wrong (like a rigid-thinking person would).
Luckily, you probably won’t have to try very hard to find ways to practice flexibility when you travel. It’s almost guaranteed that things won’t go 100% as planned.
Being a flexible traveler is healthy, and it’s even better is when you keep a flexible state of mind when you return home.
Travel Makes You Smarter
Seriously, it’s true.
Students who studied abroad scored higher academically, and were more likely to graduate than students who stayed in their home country according to a study by the University System of Georgia12.
Travel may even slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s the same way that brain puzzles and thinking games do.
Consider a year studying abroad or taking time for a week-long vacation justified.
Reasons Travel is Healthy for Your Body
So, if travel is healthy for your mind, and if mind and body are linked, does that mean travel is good for your body?
Of course you could get hurt when you travel, but just sitting in a chair can kill you13. The physical health benefits of travel are far-reaching and outweigh the (manageable) short-term risks.
Travelers Live Longer
According to a 2013 poll14, travelers have longer life expectancies that non-travelers. They are also at a significantly lower risk for heart disease. Makes it seem reasonable to take a few days off in the interest of longevity, doesn’t it?
Travel also gives you the opportunity to learn how to extend your life expectancy. People living in so-called “Blue Zones”15 (like Ikaria, Greece and Okinawa, Japan) are healthy long into their 90’s and many live to be centenarians.
What’s their secret? You’d better get there and find out.
Travel Makes You Fitter
Vacationing in a far off land means sightseeing, which gets you walking (at least to the bus stop to catch the hop-on hop-off bus). If you’re adventurer, you’re probably planning to be active during your vacation.
Hiking, snorkeling, or just plain old walking all keep your muscles from wasting away. Go somewhere specifically to do an activity (like zip-lining in Costa Rica) and you’ll improve your health (instead of deepening the couch imprint on your butt).
Travelers Have More Energy at Work
Employees who take frequent vacations do better on performance reviews, and are less likely to leave the company16.
No surprise, taking time away from work gives you a chance to recharge. Leave behind responsibilities that drain you day by day, and you’ll return to work with renewed energy.
Travel Makes You Love More
Of 1,100 adults surveyed by the U.S. Travel Association17, nearly two-thirds said traveling “inspires their romance.”
That’s not to say that travel is guaranteed to improve your intimate time, some people don’t travel well together. But having more time to be together, without distraction, to do whatever you want, can lead to…well…you know.
Travel Helps You Sleep Better
The effects of not getting enough sleep are well documented (memory loss, diabetes, death, etc18).
If you can avoid jet lag, you’ll be one of the many vacationers who get (on average) an extra hour of high-quality sleep per night (bonus: 5 Reasons to Use Hypnosis for Sleep when Combating Jet Lag).
Traveling to reduce your stress improves your sleep and improves your mood which makes you enjoy your time off even more.
Travelers Have Better Nutrition
Nutritional richness is important for your body, and travel opens up the doors to new foods – sometimes because you have no choice – which leads to better overall health.
If you’re buying the same old food every time you go to the grocery store, getting out – waaay out – of your comfort zone to try foods with a variety of colours19 might be just what you need.
Trying new foods when you visit a different country won’t just wake up your taste buds, it improves your overall nutrition.
Reasons Travel is Healthy for Your Soul
Besides being good for your mind and body, travel is healthy for your wellbeing. It’s a chance to push past the edge of your comfort zone, put your life and the world into perspective, and figure out who you are as a person (optional step: write a book about how your life changed forever).
Travel also makes you happy. When interviewed, both philosophers and scientists – people with very different perspectives – agreed that travel made them happy20. And people planning to travel are happier than those who don’t have any travel plans in their future21.
If travel can make you happier, can it change your life?
Answer: yes…and no. It can, but only if you want it to.
Travel is an Experience, and Experiences Make You Happier
A study at San Francisco State University22 compared the happiness gained from purchasing a possession to having a memorable experience. People reported much more happiness from an experience, and also felt more vitality.
The study’s presenter summed up the finding in this sentence: “As nice as your new computer is, it’s not going to make you feel alive.” No shit.
One reason experiences score higher on the happiness scale, is because they bring people – like friends and family – closer together.
Next time you’re trying to decide whether you should spend your tax refund on a new TV or a trip to the mountains with your family, you’ll know which one will make you happier, longer.
Wellness Travel: Vacation With a Purpose
If you want travel to help you stay healthy, become healthier, or grow as a person, heading to Cancun for spring break probably won’t do it.
Lucky for you, there’s a new niche in the travel tourism industry: wellness travel.
Travel to Wellness is a tour company that focuses on “wellness vacations”. Their website describes wellness travelers as two types:
- Those who seek out vacations that will “allow them to maintain their routines of fitness, healthy eating and other wellness pursuits”
- Those who want “a break from the regular routine of daily life for the proactive betterment of health and wellbeing.”
Vacations with Travel to Wellness are in the form of a retreat, with an emphasis on healthy eating and regularly scheduled physical activities like biking, hiking, surfing, and (of course) yoga. Similar companies (Pura Vida, Pravassa) also offer tours that include volunteering, to give back to the local community.
With more and more companies catching on to wellness travel, there’s bound to be a vacation for you – whether you’re into yoga or not.
Travel Allows You to Create Lasting Memories
When you return from traveling, you might not have a lot to show for it: a few souvenirs, a sunburn, and eight SD cards full of digital photos. But the most valuable things you bring home aren’t “things” at all, they’re memories.
Creating lasting memories can help you relive the great feelings you had while traveling.
The people you met, the food you ate, and the things you did, and the sights you saw. These are things you’ll remember about traveling, and these are the memories that will make you smile for a long time.
Photos bring back memories too, but you might miss a lot of your vacation watching it through a viewfinder. Put your camera away, and practice being mindful while traveling (here are out tips for Making Lasting Memories of Travel Using Mindfulness). That’s how you keep your precious memories alive.
If you’re the kind of person who takes advantage of your vacation days, keep up the good work. You’re investing in your mental and physical health, and growing as a person at the same time.
If you’re the type who refuses to take your vacation days in the name of efficiency, productivity, and commitment to your job, I hope this post has changed your mind. At the very least, I hope you’ll question your devotion to the desk and become more devoted to you.
People travel for different reasons. If you’re looking for a purpose for your travel, consider this your starting point: making a healthier, happier you.
Travel can be meaningful, but it doesn’t change your life: you do.
Did I miss a reason travel is healthy? Let me know in the comments.
1 – Psycology Today – Is Our Society Manufacturing Depressed People back
2 – The Mayo Clinic – Stress Effects on your body and behavior back
3 – Institute of Applied Positive Research – When a Vacation Reduces Stress. And When It Doesn’t back
4 – Out There – The 7 Ways Travel Teaches Patience back
5 – Live Bold & Bloom – How to Build Self-Confidence back
6 – Psychology Today – The Importance of Being Alone back
7 – The Atlantic – For a More Creative Brain, Travel back
8 – Matthew Lieberman – Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect back
9 – Forbes – Why You Need Cultural Intelligence back
10 – Michigan State U – Developing empathy is essential to emotional and physical health back
11 – Study – Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health back
12 – Inside Higher Ed – Academic Outcomes of Study Abroad back
13 – Live Science – Too Much Sitting Is Killing You back
14 – Fox News – Travel helps people stay healthy longer back
15 – USA Today – Blue Zones Authur: 9 secrets to live a long life back
16 – NY Times – Relax! You’ll Be More Productive back
17 – CBS DC – Study: Couples Who Travel Together Have Better Sex Lives back
18 – Huffington Post – 8 Scary Side Effects Of Sleep Deprivation back
19 – Diabetes Forecast – Eating Colorful Food Has Health Benefits back
20 – Study – Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday back
21 – CNN – Travel makes us happy: Here’s why” back
22 – CNN Study: Experiences make us happier than possessions back